Your browser does not support our new site design, so some things might not display or function properly.
We suggest upgrading to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9+ for the optimal experience.

The Harmonics

Stanford University

Insanity Laughs (1999)

4.6

August 29, 1999

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.8
Innovation / Creativity 3.8
Soloists 4.2
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.4
Tracks
1 Push It 5.0
2 Under Pressure 4.6
3 32 Flavors 4.2
4 Hoodoo Voodoo Doll 4.4
5 Uninvited 4.2
6 Waterboy 4.0
7 Goodbye 4.2
8 Gone Till November 3.6
9 Stay (Wastin' Time) 3.8
10 Criminal 4.2
11 Push 4.2
12 Hurt 4.8
13 Snow on the Sahara 4.4
14 Ray of Light 4.6
15 One 4.2

Recorded 1998 – 1999
Total time: 58:10, 15 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Push It 5
2 Under Pressure 5
3 32 Flavors 4
4 Hoodoo Voodoo Doll 4
5 Uninvited 3
6 Waterboy 4
7 Goodbye 5
8 Gone Till November 4
9 Stay (Wastin' Time) 4
10 Criminal 4
11 Push 5
12 Hurt 4
13 Snow on the Sahara 5
14 Ray of Light 4
15 One 5

The Stanford Harmonics have grown by leaps and bounds since their last CD. Insanity Laughs is easily one of the best co-ed discs of the year. The opening track Push It (by Garbage, not the one by Salt 'n Pepper) perfectly sums up the feel of the whole album. It's full of studio effects like vocal distortions, amplified whispers, and voices that pan back and forth between the left and right speaker so much you feel like the group is spinning in a circle around your head. Most importantly, it's good and loud. This is a group that doesn't know how to hold anything back.

There are two downsides to the high energy level of the performances on Insanity Laughs. First, the lead vocals can't compete with the backing vocals. They aren't getting lost, but it often seems like they ought to be just a bit more prominent in the mix. Under Pressure, for example, is a full out assault on your ears, but the two leads still could be boosted up a notch in the mix when the song crescendos. Second, the album is so energetic that it makes you wish there were more quiet, contemplative moments.

The one word review for the CD would be "Dense". The Harmonics have put together dense arrangements that are almost over-stuffed with sound. Insanity Laughs is also dense with great cuts. Standout tracks include One (which makes nice use of Pride and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For), Push (which is worth hearing despite the song already approaching "overdone" status), and a lush and layered performance of Snow on the Sahara.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Push It 5
2 Under Pressure 5
3 32 Flavors 5
4 Hoodoo Voodoo Doll 4
5 Uninvited 5
6 Waterboy 3
7 Goodbye 4
8 Gone Till November 4
9 Stay (Wastin' Time) 3
10 Criminal 4
11 Push 4
12 Hurt 5
13 Snow on the Sahara 5
14 Ray of Light 5
15 One 4

Hell yes! The potential that the Stanford Harmonics hinted at on their last CD, Escalator Music, has turned into a reality on their latest release, Insanity Laughs. A combination of experienced members (five remain in the group from the time of the last recording) and talented newcomers have created this eminently listenable and well-balanced album. Balance is everywhere: balance between upbeat and slower tracks, male and female soloists, familiar and less-familiar songs. If this is how far the Harmonics have come since their last CD, I can't wait to hear the next one.

The most satisfying thing about Insanity Laughs is the consistently high quality of the arrangements - they're complex, layered, interesting, and well-executed. Especially impressive are the number of group members (six) who contribute charts to the album. Even with so many different people adding their $0.02, the disc still fits together as a coherent whole — there's variety, but not disparity. I'm also impressed by the group's use of recording effects to get the most out of the songs and add depth without overdoing it. Songs that need that electronic edge get it - Ray of Light, Garbage's Push It, Nine Inch Nails' Hurt, and Anggun's Snow on the Sahara — and this really adds to the songs' appeal.

While the album stands admirably on its own, it's even more fun to hear the group as a whole, as well as individual members, improve dramatically in the time between Escalator Music and now. Elements like stratospheric soprano lines have moved from the foreground (where I complained about them last time) to a more effective supporting role. Vocal percussion has improved by leaps and bounds, and the individual soloists who make repeat appearances have risen to a higher level on the new CD. The group's jazzier departures are still high-quality, but this time the rest of the album lives up to the same level. And the "jazz" here fits in better with the flow of the CD — Brian Setzer's retro-cool Hoodoo Voodoo Doll and Save Ferris's jazz-morphs-into-ska Goodbye fit deftly into the album's general theme of What The Kids Are Listening To Today.

Not to say that there aren't a few things that the Harmonics could still improve upon. While immensely improved, there are a couple of male soloists who don't quite rise to the level of the group backing them, and overall I would rate all of the soloists as "pretty good" rather than "standout" (but that's only a quibble in relation to the overall quality of the arrangements and execution). A couple of the arrangements (Stay, Waterboy) don't have the organic flow I admire in most of the other tracks. And the songs on the CD that most people will already know, they'll know really well (i.e. overplayed to death on your favorite radio station) — for instance Criminal is a major offender, but on the brighter side I'd rather listen to the Harmonics' Push than Matchbox 20's any day. And the less-well-known songs are pleasant surprises — the standout for me was Anggun's Snow on the Sahara (I'm guessing someone in the group picked up the free sampler at Lilith '98?), in my opinion one of the best tracks on the CD.

Take a look at the track list of this album — if you like any of the songs, you'll like what the Harmonics do with them on the CD. You'll probably also find a couple of pleasant surprises along the way, so do yourself a favor and give the Insanity Laughs a listen.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Push It 5
2 Under Pressure 4
3 32 Flavors 4
4 Hoodoo Voodoo Doll 4
5 Uninvited 5
6 Waterboy 4
7 Goodbye 3
8 Gone Till November 3
9 Stay (Wastin' Time) 4
10 Criminal 4
11 Push 5
12 Hurt 5
13 Snow on the Sahara 4
14 Ray of Light 5
15 One 5

There are some a cappella purists that may argue that this album isn't truly a cappella. There is a very high percentage of music on this album that is filtered through various studio effects, creating sounds that are next to impossible to reproduce live. Because of that, some say, it gets away from the appeal of what a cappella is.

But then again, others say that the bottom line is how good the music is. And the Stanford Harmonics have an album here that could finally break the U of Penn OTB's stranglehold on Best Coed Collegiate album in the CARAs awards.

There is some serious ground-breaking (for college a cappella) going on in this album through the use of effects. But there never seems to be a "Look what I can do" sense to the use of effects...it's all for the most part very tastefully done and used (and even when it feels over the top, the song itself is very over the top too).

Among the highlights....the opening Push It, which quotes other songs that vary from Republica to the Beach Boys.....a VERY haunting, accurate reading of Uninvited...a version of Matchbox 20's Push that has a really good mimic of the original going for it (that's not the only reason, but it was very striking with that particular song)....and the first example of Nine Inch Nails that I've heard a cappella (yes, before spiralmouth's storied Closer cover)...and worth every inch of disc space it occupies.

Nothing on this album, however, can top Ray of Light, a true tour de force that absolutely left me breathless. The soloist, Melissa "Meals" Wheeler (What is it with this group and their one member with a nickname? On both albums said singer has blown me out of my office chair.) delivers a dead-on attack with this song, evoking Ms. Ciccone without mimicking, and the arrangement is breathtaking...I want to hear it live just to see what stayed after all the effects were gone. Kudos to Marcella White for one of the five best arrangements I've heard this year.

This album does have it's slow points...the Save Ferris and Wyclef Jean songs were less than compelling, and the soloist on Under Pressure kept that one from earning a perfect fine....but I'm having to look hard for negatives with this group, and that's a good sign that I'm listening to one of the college classics of '99....East Coast better start stepping up its album work, cause I think I hear Stanford Harmonics knockin', and I think they're coming in, and they're bringing all their studio effects with them, purists be hogtied. =)


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Push It 5
2 Under Pressure 5
3 32 Flavors 4
4 Hoodoo Voodoo Doll 5
5 Uninvited 4
6 Waterboy 4
7 Goodbye 5
8 Gone Till November 4
9 Stay (Wastin' Time) 4
10 Criminal 5
11 Push 4
12 Hurt 5
13 Snow on the Sahara 4
14 Ray of Light 5
15 One 4

The Harmonics impress again with their many strengths — clever, complex arrangements, excellent vocal percussion, strong soloists, and strong performances of a range of musical styles, though this is more straight-up radio pop than their last album.

I tend to prefer the tunes with a harder edge to them - Push It, Criminal, Hurt, etc. But I suspect the distortion filter is the new toy the group discovered with this album, and they had a hard time putting it down; sometimes it was a tad overused.

Two of the group's driving forces from Escalator Music, Jonathan Pilat '99 and Matthew Kaufman '97(?!) are still pumping out great arrangements, laying down solid percussion, and all around ripping it up. It'll be interesting to see if they actually leave the group next year and to watch the younger members take over.

This is a good solid, reliable album of familiar songs by a talented coed collegiate group. If that's your thing, get this disc. You won't be disappointed.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Push It 5
2 Under Pressure 4
3 32 Flavors 4
4 Hoodoo Voodoo Doll 5
5 Uninvited 4
6 Waterboy 5
7 Goodbye 4
8 Gone Till November 3
9 Stay (Wastin' Time) 4
10 Criminal 4
11 Push 3
12 Hurt 5
13 Snow on the Sahara 4
14 Ray of Light 4
15 One 3

Having had the pleasure the Harmonics' previous recording (Escalator Music), I have to say that I was apprehensive about Insanity Laughs. Said previous recording fell victim to frequent directional choices to include male/female solos that were detrimental to many of the tracks on this recording. Would this new recording fall victim to a similar problem? No. Would this CD fall victim to bland, straight arrangements like last time? Once, maybe twice, but only once or twice. Would this CD have any tracks that rivaled Rhythm of Love's out-of-nowhere rocking intensity? Right from the start. Would I like this CD better? MOST definitely.

Credit to the director and the group for having only one completely overdone cover, and then saving it for the end. For the most part, Insanity Laughs delivers a fresh, diverse set of tracks that entices the listener to pay attention at all times, even when the tracks are not fully successful.

Few nitnoid things to pick out first, because I want to end on praise... First, a couple of times, there were tracks that sucked the life out of the solo because of a chosen slow tempo. When that happens, the solo sounds like it's metered out instead of more spontaneous. The most glaring example is Gone Till November where it loses it's conversational/reflective feel because each syllable is so carefully placed. However, overall the solos are way better this time, with energy.

Second, let U2's One die...it needs a 30-year moratorium then brought out in a "Remember When" type CD...too many groups have done it, and it's getting to the point that unless someone does a country version of it, there is nothing new to be milked from it.

OK...ranting over, praising begins.

This CD hits hard and fast with a cover of Garbage's Push It that makes incredible use of post production. That, and Shannon Pierce's solo, make this one of the must listen tracks out there.

I do admit to a cringe when I heard the opening to the second track, as I had forgotten that Vanilla Ice sampled it for his one-hit wonder classic (?!?!). Then it got past the bass and I was OK.

This group learned from the last CD, and built incredibly textured arrangements that were performed with great care. I was tapping and humming (and even singing along...yikes) with some of the tracks. With 17 members in the group (pet peeve: doesn't that equal a small glee club?), they did not rely on four part harmony, but went above and way beyond, pushing themselves along the way.

Please, Harmonics, make sure the lessons are committed to memory. It would be great to see you build from this level forward; this is definitely your new benchmark, and one that the general public should consider ordering.


How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please email us with your name, group name and album title. You will receive a response with information on how to register your album in our system.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

×

Ordering Information

Send check for $17.00 ($15 + $2 s/h) to:

Stanford Harmonics
PO Box 9174
Stanford, CA 94309
and email them at harmonics@lists.stanford.edu to let them know it's coming.

×